Saturday, June 14, 2008

Some Quick Thoughts

My blog is again beginning to suffer from neglect because I've been busy setting up my new studio in Sunset Park. But on the subway ride out there yesterday I was thumbing through the new Artforum, and saw a couple of things in the Peter Schjeldahl interview that are worthy of comment. They weren't big talking points, almost parenthetical, really, but encapsulate to a large extent some of the more non-negotiable aspects of contemporary art discourse.

The first was not an original thought on the part of Schjeldahl - the interviewer (Deborah Solomon) pointed out that it was a version of a Greenberg dictum: the idea that good art can't look too good, at least not at first. And a little later, the critic explains why he liked this year's Biennnial: "It felt sad and lost. Very true to the moment." These two views have a common thread.

There's a reflexive reaction to art that's extremely well-made: it almost always elicits mistrust on the part of the educated viewer - the automatic assumption is that the work is pandering and facile (the interesting exception to this rule is the object that is well-made by industrial fabrication, but I digress). As Solomon pointed out, this notion has its origins in Greenberg himself, so it would be wrong to pin its pervasiveness on Post-Modernism. But Post-Modernism forcefully added to the mix the idea that quality was an arbitrary attribute assigned by whoever was in power at the moment.

Art is not welcomed into the venues that exhibit it uncritically, however; some criteria became necessary to replace quality, and communion with the zeitgeist became the gold standard. A firm belief in the idea that art is the mirror that reflects the culture is the basis for the paradoxical statement that "sad and lost" is a virtue for an art exhibition.